Scotland’s Six Nations hopes have suffered a crushing blow with the news that Glasgow Warriors tighthead prop Zander Fagerson faces at least two months out after picking up a foot injury in training this week.
The news is a huge setback for Gregor Townsend ahead of Scotland’s opening match in the tournament against Wales in Cardiff on 3 February. The national coach already had limited options in the specialist tighthead position.
WP Nel is recovering from a broken arm sustained in the first autumn Test against Samoa and there are doubts he will be able to play any part in the Six Nations.
Nel’s Edinburgh team-mate Simon Berghan is serving a six-week suspension for a stamping offence during the first 1872 Cup clash against Glasgow Warriors and will miss the game in Cardiff.
Glasgow coach Dave Rennie hinted that Fagerson could realistically be out for longer than eight weeks, which suggests he will miss the whole Six Nations.
Rennie said: “It is his foot and, from a scrummaging viewpoint, a lot of load goes through that. The guide is six to eight weeks but, for a front row, it can be longer. He knocked something over and it fell on his foot in the gym. It is one of those frustrating injuries.”
Rennie also revealed on-going concerns over Scotland hooker Fraser Brown, who has been stood down after suffering yet another head knock this season, with no timescale on when he might be back.
“We’ve just been really conservative around Fraser,” added the Glasgow coach after naming his team to play Zebre in the Pro14 in Italy this afternoon. “As often happens, he has no symptoms. He has completed all the protocols, but he has had two or three head knocks this season already. We just want to find out a bit more about why.
“If you get a knock on the head he seems okay but if he gets a knock on the jaw he ends up getting knocked out. He comes back reasonably quickly and we just want to do a bit of research around this. We’re not going to rush him back in until we know a bit more.”
On the day that former Glasgow full-back Peter Murchie announced his retirement from the game due to concussion problems, Rennie said that player welfare surrounding head injuries was now being taken very seriously.
“Absolutely. There is no doubt that we were pretty reckless when I was playing,” he said. “If you got a knock on the head you jumped out the next week; there were no protocols to go through at all.
“It’s quite difficult. You need at least a five-day stretch, and sometimes there’s just not enough time in the week to tick every box and get a player back out there. The key is not to rush things. If a player has had multiple head knocks you have to be cautious around that. That’s what we’re going to do with Fraser.
“He seems fine but we have to look at why this is happening. With most players who have symptoms, it takes a while, if they have a number of knocks, to get over it. But Fraser ends up with no symptoms at all and bounces back immediately. We just want to find out what’s happening and we need to take our time with that.”
The shortage at tighthead could mean a first cap for Newcastle’s Jon Welsh since the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Australia at Twickenham. The former Glasgow man was called into Townsend’s squad as cover during the November Tests in which Scotland dealt admirably with a long list of front-row injuries.
Youngsters Murray McCallum of Edinburgh and Darcy Rae of Glasgow could find themselves in cap contention, while another experienced option could be Moray Low. The 37-times capped tighthead has not featured much for Exeter Chiefs this season but is fit and would be available if called upon.